source: The Climate Group
18 June 2015

LONDON: Mark Kenber, CEO of The Climate Group, today welcomed the Pope’s encyclical on climate change, saying it would hugely build momentum to deliver a strong global climate deal at COP21 later this year.

“Pope Francis, one of the most influential leaders in the world, is stating that acting now on climate change has to be at the top of the list of priorities for all world leaders,” he says. “This is a hugely significant development: this is the first time the Catholic church has put such critical importance on urgent action on climate change, and puts real pressure on policymakers and business leaders to deliver at COP21.

“The driver to this intervention is that, while all of us will suffer the impacts of runaway climate change, it is the poor and the most vulnerable who will face the most devastating disruption and climate-related disasters. However what it does is mobilise 1.2 billion Catholics around the world into climate activists at a time when there is concern about the need to really raise ambition at the Paris climate talks later this year. The significance of this should not be understated.”

Climate change is primarily caused by human activity and is one of the biggest challenges for humanity, Pope Francis writes in his much-awaited encyclical released today, the first to be completely devoted to such a topic. “faced as we are with global environmental deterioration, I wish to address every person living on this planet,” he writes.

The document, addressed to every bishop and therefore to every Catholic in the world, is a fervent appeal from the Pope to take action to safeguard the environment, “our common house”, which “now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her.”

The document is a clear recognition of the anthropogenic cause of climate change. “A number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and others) released mainly as a result of human activity,” the Pope writes in his encyclical.

“It would hardly be helpful to describe symptoms without acknowledging the human origins of the ecological crisis,” he adds. The point is particularly important for US politics, where many Republican members of Congress must try to conciliate their skepticism toward climate change with their asserted devotion to Catholicism.

The Pope is well aware economic, social and cultural oppositions are making preventing climate disruption a difficult task, stressing: “Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions. We require a new and universal solidarity”.

To address this problem, he suggests humanity must “recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it”.

Climate change impacts “will continue to worsen if we continue with current models of production and consumption,” warns the pontiff. “If present trends continue, this century may well witness extraordinary climate change and an unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequences for all of us”.

This is why Pope Franis calls for “global consensus” ahead of the important climate talks in Paris later this year, to tackle what he defines “the deeper problems, which cannot be resolved by unilateral actions on the part of individual countries”. The pontiff specifically points out the need for “developing renewable and less polluting forms of energy, encouraging a more efficient use of energy, promoting a better management of marine and forest resources, and ensuring universal access to drinking water”.

Pope Francis says an international climate agreement is necessary, not least for the sake of future generations. “What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” he asks. “What would induce anyone, at this stage, to hold on to power only to be remembered for their inability to take action when it was urgent and necessary to do so?”

Focused on the need for a transition to cleaner energy and greater collaboration between countries as key to a robust global climate deal, he writes: “We know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels – especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas – needs to be progressively replaced without delay”.

Tackling climate change implies “common and differentiated responsibilities,” writes the pontiff, recalling a term used in the climate negotiations to indicate that richer countries – which have historically polluted more than the developing ones – must restate such imbalance. “Inequity affects not only individuals but entire countries,” writes Pope Francis, “it compels us to to consider an ethics of international relations.

A true ‘ecological debt’ exists, particularly between the global north and south, connected to commercial imbalances with effects on the environment, and the disproportionate use of natural resources by certain countries over long periods of time”.

For this reason, poor countries “They are likewise bound to develop less polluting forms of energy production, but to do so they require the help of countries which have experienced great growth at the cost of the ongoing pollution of the planet. Taking advantage of abundant solar energy will require the establishment of mechanisms and subsidies which allow developing countries access to technology transfer, technical assistance and financial resources”.

Interestingly, the Pope points out that in doing so “the costs of this would be low, compared to the risks of climate change,” a statement that echoes last year’s New Economy Report. However, the pontiff is critical toward ‘carbon credits’, which in his opinion “can lead to a new form of speculation which would not help reduce the emission of polluting gases worldwide,” because “it may simply become a ploy which permits maintaining the excessive consumption of some countries and sectors”.

Therefore, “there is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced,” says the Pope, “for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy”.

Outlining that there is more than one ray of hope he writes: “Some countries have made considerable progress, although it is far from constituting a significant proportion [of the global energy mix].

Investments have also been made in means of production and transportation which consume less energy and require fewer raw materials, as well as in methods of construction and renovating buildings which improve their energy efficiency. But these good practices are still far from widespread”.

We have just “one world with a common plan one world”, affirms the Pope in the encyclical. “The urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change”.

Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, comments: “Pope Francis’ encyclical underscores the moral imperative for urgent action on climate change to lift the planet’s most vulnerable populations, protect development, and spur responsible growth. This clarion call should guide the world towards a strong and durable universal climate agreement in Paris at the end of this year. Coupled with the economic imperative, the moral imperative leaves no doubt that we must act on climate change now”.

Drew Monkman

I am a retired teacher, naturalist and writer with a love for all aspects of the natural world, especially as they relate to seasonal change.